Is 'Smart City' just a concept?
The mission of ‘Developing 100 smart cities’ has come a long way from being just a manifesto promise to the final selection of potential
As per the laid down blueprint, 20 smart cities should have been identified by 2015, 40 to be selected in 2016 and the remaining set of 40 in 2017. However, till date the mission is stuck at the planning stage and struggling to take the next round of steps. One of the possible reasons could be the lack of explicitly defining the timelines of the mission completion at the first stage. The mission seems to be moving forward with no set deadlines and the
It has also been noted that urban schemes that require state participation, generally progress at a slow rate, which can be a possible case with smart cities in India. The state government has a considerable say in the city level matters because of the hierarchical administrative structure. Thus offering little power to the urban local body (ULB) and raising concerns about the long-term sustainability of the
At this juncture, when most of the hurdles to achieve the goal of smart cities have been successfully passed, it is time to execute the action plan. It is important to realise that the mission is already running behind time and not paying attention to the inherent problems in the system can delay the project further. It can lead to a scenario similar to Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) where out of 1345 sanctioned projects in Phase 1 (March 2005 – March 2012), 715 projects were not completed by the stipulated date. As a result, the cost of implementation kept increasing with time and this acted as a roadblock in the development process of India.
Even Kevin Stolarick, Canadian expert on Urban Affairs pointed to the severity of the challenge of creating smart cities based on his experience after visiting 35 Indian cities. According to him, when the fundamental infrastructure isn’t in place in India then how will the smart cities initiative take off and cater to the masses. As Maslow defined the hierarchy of needs for individuals, cities too have their own hierarchy needs. And just as it's hard to be ‘self-actualizing’ if you are hungry or unsafe – how can a city become a ‘smart city’ if it does not have the basic infrastructure in place?
The concept is also focusing on transforming just a section of the selected city, which will serve only a fraction of the city and might create inconsistency in the city’s operation. Jaipur has a land area of 27,630 acres but as per its smart city plan, only 706 acres will be considered for the area-based development. The step raises a question that why is the bigger picture not looked at. If the smart cities are not meant for all the citizenry of a city then why it is being promoted as an inclusive approach.
The need of the hour is, therefore, to start rolling the mobilised resources and convert plans into actions because the earlier it is done, the better it will be to support the fast-paced urbanisation in India.
About the authors: Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness and Editor of Thinkers. Ankita Garg is a senior researcher at the Institute for Competitiveness, India.